Fulfilling one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top higher education priorities this session, lawmakers have given final approval to the elimination of the state’s startup investment fund and directed much of its money to a new governor-controlled researcher recruitment effort.
The action required two bills, Senate Bill 632 by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and House Bill 26 by Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson. The measures — both of which passed on Sunday — would formalize the end of the Emerging Technology Fund, a signature project of Abbott’s predecessor, Rick Perry.
In its place, it would create the Governor’s University Research Initiative, which has $40 million earmarked in the state budget. Abbott has said he plans to use the fund to attract major researchers, including Nobel laureates, to the state’s public universities.
Abbott has touted the plan numerous times in recent months. He mentioned it in his State of the State speech, cited it as a key reason for including higher education in this session’s emergency items, and invited many of the state’s Nobel Prize winners to the Governor’s Mansion this month to draw attention to the idea.
On Sunday, he said the fund would “harness our resources to empower Texas’ higher education institutions as integral participants in our economic advancement.”
“I commend the Texas Legislature for passing legislation that will allow us to make great strides toward my goal of elevating our higher education system, and ultimately creating better jobs and more opportunity for all Texans,” he said in a statement.
Perry is preparing an expected 2016 presidential run and credits the Emerging Technology Fund with bolstering Texas’ economy. But critics called it political cronyism saying that state money had gone to some firms that didn’t create jobs or went bankrupt.
Darlene Boudreaux, executive director of the Tech Fort Worth business incubator, said that while the Emerging Technology Fund helped Texas attract some companies, its end will not be devastating to the startup community because of the emergence of local angel investor networks, including the Cowtown Angels in Fort Worth.
“They can now fund deals of $2 to $5 million, where five years ago, the ETF was about the only option to get those companies off the ground,” Boudreaux said in an emailed statement.
Regarding the new university research initiative, Boudreaux said state funding is critical given cuts in federal research funds, and “will make a big difference in discoveries of new technology being fostered in Texas.”
This article includes material from The Associated Press and staff writer Steve Kaskovich.